Unity FC: A Sister Club
Unity in the U.S. soccer landscape is almost non-existent. It’s always leagues against leagues and fans of one system battling fans of another. The one team that is supposed to unite us all- the national team -has caused a rupture among the fans. “I believe that we will win” once had power and feeling and now stands for nothing. We don’t believe in the concept of unity and even though there are examples of its strength in our own environment, we choose to continue to deepen the divide between us all. USL is trying to steal markets. Some MLS teams are thriving while NWSL teams don’t have proper training grounds. Escaping this reality is going to be tough. The common goal can’t be revenue. The common goal has to be unity, because united we stand and divided we fall.
When we look for examples of unity we look toward markets like Detroit and Chattanooga. But what about Deltona, Florida, where a club exists and is called Unity Football Club. Unity FC is a women’s soccer club that participates in the UPSL Southeast Conference Central Division.
This new club has had recent success in winning the Florida Classic, a ten year competition that just launched its women’s tournament. Florida soccer is often touted as one of the more talented soccer regions and the Florida Classic was a great opportunity that displayed some of the women’s soccer talent out there. After a tough four days, Unity FC came away the victor and it was the club’s united mentality that helped it become champion.
“[Unity FC] is family,” said head coach and co-owner Kristine Ford. Not only is the club family in its mentality, but also logistically. Kristine and Mark Ford own and operate the club, their two daughters Harlie and Dayne play for them, and the club even has two other sets of sisters: twins Jessie and Jazmine Rivera and Corayma and Alexa Torres. A family atmosphere is something the club continues to build, and not just because of the relatives that play together, but the environment that the club continues to prioritize. “The other girls on the team are like sisters too. For the Florida Classic we had a big house, we had six bedrooms and they were all there. We ate together, we slept together, we did laundry together and we just hung out together,” said Kristine Ford.
“There was no way Jessie would have any opportunity to become the soccer player she is becoming. She is a dynamic goalkeeper, she still has much to learn, but the fact remains that she has 229 saves in 21 games this high school season. The girl has never been taught how to play goalkeeper and she just does it. Jazmine is a tenacious player and she will play the entire field, she will come out of position purposefully to make sure that we move the ball in the right direction. Her whole goal is to get the ball into the attacking third. Her skill may not be as good as other players, but her fitness beats most players on the team. She is so dedicated and her first touch is amazing,” said Kristine Ford about the Rivera sisters.
The Rivera twins are both currently in high school. Soccer was never a main priority for the two, but they have grown to love the sport. “[Playing together] has its pros and cons,” said Jessie. “There are challenges, but we try to act professional and not compete against each other. We are used to being together all the time and if [Jessie] wasn’t there, I would definitely feel very lonely,” added Jazmine. Within two years both of these ladies have gone from the easy streets of high school soccer to playing against talented college and ex-professional players in the UPSL.
“Harlie and Dayne [Ford] also have a bit of this mind meld thing. Harlie plays as a middle defender for us and Dayne plays a bad ass right wing. They just know how to connect with each other and it’s easy,” said Kristine Ford.
Harlie is a twenty year old captain who leads the club in minutes played. She is an aggressive defender who can break up plays in the midfield and has the ability to get back into her line before any space is exploited. Her younger sister, Dayne, is seventeen years old and has shown an ability to play an accurate cross as well as dribble into and around danger. The Ford sisters are key pieces in the Unity FC tactics.
“Cory and Alexa Torres are dynamic together. Their minds are melded and they play so well with each other: they can anticipate each other’s passes and they often assist each other for goals,” said Kristine Ford.
Twenty year old Alexa Torres is Unity’s all time leading scorer. She is a dynamic attacker who can control the ball, make the right decision and doesn’t crack inside the box. Mixed with her technical skills she has the size to physically dominate her opponent. Her younger sister, Cory is seventeen years old and has played in every Unity FC competition. She also stands at six feet tall and has a powerful shot that has seen her score multiple goals from outside the box.
The club also employs multiple players who may not be related but have begun growing a bond with each other, on and off the pitch. “ I think the players have built a bond and a friendship. When we have an activity a lot of them are very interested. We live far apart, some of our players are over and hour away from us, so it's not always the easiest to get together,” said Kristine Ford. Chemistry is key for a club to achieve success and within one year of existence Unity has found a way to help create an environment that players can excel in. They’ve won championships and have given overlooked players a chance at a brighter future. They play together, they win together and they stand united.
A United Future
The first year has been a success, but the future looks even brighter for Unity Football Club. “We have spent so many hours on the soccer field and we watched these girls play. Do they get offers? No, they aren't offered a future in soccer. It’s not just our kids, it’s a lot of kids. We are just trying to rectify the wrong,” said Mark Ford. It's his goal to get these ladies into college or the professional level. “Every single player on our team, other than our older veterans like Billie Darden, has been passed by and not given an opportunity,” added Mark Ford.
So what’s next for this club? In the long term the club is working on a major sponsorship, a potential stadium, and a partnership that would help develop younger kids in its community. But what about the short term? Kristine said “ until this last weekend I thought we would just play some summer ball. Give the players an opportunity to play highly competitive soccer. After we won the Florida Classic the Florida State Soccer Association President told us that we were eligible for regionals. If we do well in regionals we will then be eligible for the national championship. That changed our perspective a bit.”
What sticks out to me about this grassroots women’s club is its ambition to help those around it. Whether it was helping in the first ever women’s Florida Classic, getting player scholarships, or promoting the underserved women’s soccer community, Unity FC is trying to do what its soccer community, and many others, so desperately needs. It’s trying to unite it.
- Steven Ramirez